Embroidery for Beginners: the basics
Embroidery as Art
Embroidery is having a moment in today's decor and fashion. We see hoops adorning walls in high end magazines and blogs, luxurious embroidered clothing and accessories on catwalks, and even as a medium for street art installations.
As self-taught embroidery artist, my designs have been published internationally in magazines, featured on countless blogs, and my embroidery art, whether framed or as detailing on handmade dolls, decorates homes around the world.
Embroidery is a perfect craft for those who can't make a large investment in a new hobby, or who don't have the attention span to sit for hours mastering steps before being able to create. It is inexpensive, easy to transport for making on the go, and for smaller projects, quite quick! With even a basic knowledge of a single stitch, you will be able to make beautifully finished pieces.
In this series I am going to take you from the very beginning of material functionality, to fabric and floss choices, and then the first stitch I taught myself; the backstitch.
For any embroidery project you will need:
- An embroidery hoop
- Thread - Floss
There are a wide range of embroidery hoops on the market in shapes such as circles, ovals, and rounded edge squares. They come in tiny sizes for jewelry to extra large sizes for quilting. I personally use wooden hoops opposed to plastic from 3 inch embroidery hoops to 16 inch quilting hoops.
Embroidery hoops, and the larger and wider quilting hoops, have three components; an inner hoop, an outer hoop, and a screw closer. We will be using a 4 inch wooden embroidery hoop in this tutorial. They can be found at a wide variety of craft stores and online.
floss and thread
Embroidery floss for a stitcher is like paint to a painter. There are many different types and each gives a different effect. Colors are boundless and make a tremendous impact on the finished piece. For embroidery there are four main options; stranded embroidery floss, pearl cotton, crewel wool, and specialty threads.
Stranded embroidery floss is generally cotton, sold in skeins and includes 6 divisible strands of thread-like floss. I use stranded embroidery floss quite often since you can change the effect of a piece by using smaller and larger thread counts in the same color.
Something to keep in mind, because stranded embroidery floss can be pulled apart, strand by strand, every now and then one strand will stick up from your work and you have to pull the threads to get the stitches to lay flat.
An interesting option in this range is ombré skeins which have a subtle color variation and are wonderful for little blossoms, leaves, and water.
Pearl cotton is a tightly twisted strand which is not divisible.
To achieve variations in thickness you need different sizes, like you would if you were working with yarn. The larger the number, the smaller the thread width.
Pearl cotton has its own texture so it adds depth to even simple pieces and is wonderfully easy to use for embroidery with a lot of line-work, like monograms. We will be using pearl cotton for this tutorial.
Crewel wool is wool thread; think fine lace-like yarn.
While it is specifically for a type of embroidery, called crewel, crewel wool can be used in any project and is wonderful for shading natural textured elements.
specialty thread - goldwork and silk shown
Specialty threads can be anything from silk threads to metallic and synthetic, even metal for embroidery called goldwork. Each brings its own texture and dimension.
If floss is to paint, then fabric is to canvas. I believe fabric choice to be just as important as color scheme or design when planning your piece. High quality fabric like linen and cotton, or heavier weight options like velvet, wool, and wool-silk blends are my go-to’s. Any fabric lighter than an upholstery weight I always layer with a piece cotton underneath to avoid light shining through the back and making the stitches from the underside show through. It also gives each stitch something more to hold onto and prevents pulls.
I am using linen in this tutorial with cotton backing.
Your needle will depend on the thread and fabric you are using. Speciality threads or heavier options like crewel wool demand a larger needle with a larger eye. Pearl cotton or stranded floss can be used with a wide variety. I find I prefer very sharply tipped needles in the smallest size my thread will hold. But really this can be to your preference.
You can buy embroidery scissors, as there are lovely classic stork options, but I use small fabric scissors. The most important aspect of your scissors is that they are sharp and have a pointy tip to ensure you can cleanly cut your threads in tight spaces on the back of your hoop.
Outfitting the Hoop
After you have chosen your fabric, threads, and hoop size, you will stretch the fabric within the embroidery hoop.
While it's technically called a ‘hoop’ there are actually two hoops; one inside the other. Unscrew the top of the outer hoop so the inner hoop can be easily separated from the outer hoop.
Lay the inner hoop on a flat surface and place your fabric over the inner hoop. Make sure you leave at least half an inch of fabric over the edge of the inner circle for finishing.
Note: if you are using a light colored, or lightweight fabric, like this linen, place your lining fabric (I use cotton broadcloth) first on top of the inner hoop, then your final fabric on top of both your lining fabric and inner hoop.
Like an embroidery hoop sandwich where the hoops are the bread and the lining and linen is the ham and cheese (or turkey and Brie if I'm making a sandwich).
Place the top hoop over the fabric and inner hoop. Once the fabric is flat with no bunches, begin to tighten the top screw while stretching the fabric. The fabric should be flat, free from creases, but no so tight as to pull.
Tighten the screw to secure the fabric within the hoops. Trim any fabric that extends beyond an inch from the hoop.
In this tutorial we will be embroidering a monogram, but at this stage your fabric is your canvas and the options are limitless. I recommend starting with single lines and a simple design if you are a beginner.
I personally use a pen and freehand draw the design directly onto the fabric. The benefit is I have a lot of freedom and design as I go. The negative is, I only get one chance!
There are other options however. Fabric pens with ink that disappears when wet, using a lightbox to trace the design directly on the fabric, or printing the design onto transfer paper are all other options. If your fabric is light enough you may able to simply trace the design with a pen or fabric pen by placing your fabric on top of a printed design.
If you are going to be drawing freehand directly on the fabric without tracing, either with traditional ink or a disappearing ink fabric pen, I recommend stretching your fabric within the hoop first. All other options are better when transferred prior to the fabric being stretched in the hoop.
Embroidery- the Backstitch
Now for the fun part! The backstitch is a perfect beginner stitch that can be used for nearly every project, and a building block for a range of other stitches.
In this tutorial I'll be using DMC pearl cotton in size 5, color 318.
First, thread your needle with a length of thread (I usually use pieces that are about 2-3 feet long).
Next, you are going to make your first stitch on the fabric. To do this, push your needle up through the back of the fabric to the front directly on the beginning of your design line.
Pull the thread up, leaving an inch or so of thread on the back.
Push your needle back down to the back of the fabric about ¼ inch along the design line. Making sure not to tug the end of the thread out, pull your thread all the way to the back of the hoop so your first stitch lays flat against the front of your fabric.
Knot the end of the thread and the thread you will be stitching with on the back of the fabric.
Now you have secured your thread to the fabric and have made your first stitch. Yay, you!
Next, push your needle up through the back of the fabric about ¼ inch from your last stitch. Pull the thread through.
Push your needle down into the same hole as the ending of your first stitch and pull through to the back. You should now have stitches lined next to one another with no space in between. You have completed a backstitch!
That's it! To continue, keep pushing up your thread from the back of the hoop ¼ inch from your last stitch and return the thread to the back of the hoop in the hole from the end of last stitch.
When you get to your last stitch, bring the thread to the back of the hoop to secure.
Knot the thread and cut, leaving a small tail. You are finished! Now to secure the back.
There are multiple ways to secure the back of the hoop. The two options I use are either gluing or sewing. You can hot glue the overlying fabric to the inside rim on the back of the hoop or you can sew it closed. I am sewing the back of my hoops more and more. To do this, use a length of the same floss used in the hoop design and insert your needle in the top of the overlying fabrics (both lining and linen in this tutorial) on the backside, from top to bottom, about halfway down.
Leaving about an inch or two of thread as a tail, pull the thread through and begin a running stitch (picking up pieces of the fabric in an in-and-out motion) around the hoop.
As you go around you can pull it tight, just be sure not to pull the whole strand out!
When you get all the way around, pull tight, and knot to the beginning tail.
Three backstitch tips:
- Keep all stitches short. Long stitches tend to become angular and your design won't look fluid.
- Keep all stitches uniform. Try not to vary the length of your stitches. More curved and detailed designs need slightly smaller stitch lengths while straighter and longer designs can use longer stitch lengths.
- Make sure to push your needle directly into the hole made from the previous stitch. If any space of fabric is in between the stitches you won't have a clear line.
You did it, yay you!! Now get stitchin’!
If you are looking to begin a new project but don’t have the materials, or would like to give the art of embroidery as a gift, I offer a custom embroidery DIY kit.
Create your own embroidery hoop art with this custom kit! We will work together to combine fabric, thread, and a design to fit your style and space. After putting together your set, I send everything you need in one package, so you can create your own work of art.
No need to worry about transferring patterns; I will draw your chosen design directly onto your fabric so all you have to do upon receiving your package is start stitching!
Each custom kit includes:
* A color board and sketch of your design for approval
* A one of a kind design drawn directly onto your fabric
* A wooden embroidery hoop
* A whole skein (or skeins) of floss or thread
* An embroidery needle
* Fabric and backing fabric if needed
Choose your skill or design level:
*Beginner - A 4 inch hoop with one color and one design (such as a monogram or simple graphic)
- Absolutely no experience necessary!
*Stitcher - A 7 inch hoop with up to 3 colors and a central design with detailing (such as a name or quote, and simple wreath)
- Some embroidery experience is a plus but not necessary. We can go over which stitches you are most comfortable with prior to to the
*Expert - A 10 inch hoop with up to 5 colors and a complex design of your choosing
- Embroidery experience recommended, different stitches can be used such as satin stitch, chain stitch, split stitch, seed stitch, etc.
Copyright Morgan Roberts 2017
** This DIY is written by me, Morgan Roberts, and all photos and text are copyrighted. Embroidery art made may be used for anything your heart desires, but the photos and instruction may not be used without my permission. Feel free to link to the tutorial, or email me with any questions. ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) I love hearing from you! **